Shell Worker Death Ups Strike Threat at Talks Wed - Union

LONDON Aug 30, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

The Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB)-led joint venture in Nigeria confirmed late Tuesday that a local employee was killed following a clash 10 days ago between the military and rebels in the Niger Delta, a development that raises the specter of strike action at a meeting between oil unions Wednesday, a union leader said.

The Shell Petroleum Development Co. said in a statement that the body of community relations employee Nelson Ujeya had been found Tuesday, following an incident Aug. 20.

Ujeya, who had been kidnapped by Niger Delta militants, "was said to be in a convoy of boats, together with Bayelsa State Government representatives, Community Chiefs and a number of militants, when there was an exchange of gunfire between some members of the (government) Joint Task Force and the militants," the statement said.

Nigeria's white-collar oil workers union the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, is meeting Wednesday with the blue-collar National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, or Nupeng, to discuss what action to take.

The news "automatically raises the stakes at today's meeting," Peter Esele, Pengassan president told Dow Jones Newswires.

"I got a call yesterday saying that he is dead," Esele added.

The two oil unions are meeting to take a common position on the rising incidence of kidnappings of oil workers.

No fewer than 20 oil workers, mostly foreign employees of international oil companies, have been abducted by militants who are fighting for more control of the area's oil resources.

The militants, who come from a handful of different groups, have released nearly all the hostages after a ransom payment has been handed over.

Security analysts say the payments usually come from the companies.

Up to 80,000 oil workers from both unions may be affected if strike action takes place.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta - one of the region's most prominent militant groups - said it has ordered all militia groups in the region to end hostage-taking, as it was giving a bad name to the groups' genuine cause.

Jomo Gbomo, a spokesman for the group whose name is believed to be a nom de plume, said in an e-mail that the militia groups had been advised to "steer clear of kidnappings for ransom, piracy and robberies, as such acts will no longer be tolerated."

MEND said boats filled with Nigerian government forces ambushed its fighters almost two weeks ago, killing 10 militants and injuring others. The group said it was attacked as forces attempted to free Ujeya.

SPDC said Ujeya worked in its Western area of operation and was part of a visit by officials of the Bayelsa State Government, the Department of Petroleum Resources, SPDC and representatives to the Letugbene community.

"Unfortunately, at the end of the exercise, he was prevented from leaving by some members of the community," SPDC added. "We are deeply saddened by this incident and wish to extend our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the deceased."

SPDC is a joint venture operated by Shell, which owns 30%, and with the Nigerian National Petroleum Co. with 55%, Total SA (TOT) with 10% and Eni SpA (E) with 5%.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.